By Alaa Shahine
KHARTOUM, Oct 18 (Reuters) - An increase in violence in North Darfur last month has displaced at least 40,000 people, many of whom could be short of food and water, a United Nations official said on Saturday.
Gregory Alex, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in northern Darfur, said around 24,000 people fled their homes after clashes between government and rebel forces near the areas of Birmaza and Disa.
The rest were displaced because of other forms of violence, including tribal fighting, Alex told Reuters in a telephone interview from El Fasher, North Darfur's state capital.
"Some of them (villagers) left with what they could carry. We are presuming that whatever resources they took with them are now depleted," Alex said.
"Anybody who leaves home abruptly and moves to the countryside will have all these needs. And the longer they stay, the more problems they have." Alex earlier estimated the total number of people who had fled their homes in North Darfur at 50,000.
Rebel groups said last month government forces and allied militias launched a series of heavy ground and air assaults on their positions in northern Darfur. The Sudanese army said soldiers had entered some areas the rebels had mentioned, but that troops were only protecting roads against bandits.
Aid workers said at the time that entire villages had been emptied after residents took shelter in surrounding mountains and open land, cut off from food aid and clinics.
Alex and an international aid source said humanitarian access to the areas near Disa and Birmaza was very limited.
"Nobody is able to reach the area," said the aid worker, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The security situation is unstable so trying to reach them is very dangerous."
Alex said food and water were not the only supplies needed. "The season is changing. It is starting to get cold at night, so they need non-food items as well."
International experts estimate that 200,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million people have fled their homes since the violence flared in Darfur in 2003, when mostly African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated central government.
Khartoum says 10,000 have died and accuses the international media of exaggerating the crisis.
The recent increase in violence undermined hopes of peace at a time the Sudanese government is trying to block attempts by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide in Darfur.
Bashir launched a new national initiative in Khartoum on Thursday to bring peace to the region. Rebel groups boycotted the event, saying it was an attempt by Bashir to avoid the ICC arrest warrant by showing the world it was working for peace.
Ahmed Hussein Adam, a spokesman for the Justice and Equality Movement, said the government has to stop "killing civilians" and harassing displaced people for any peace initiative to have a chance of success.
"On the ground in Darfur, what they are doing is completely different," he told Reuters this week.
The aid worker said that of the 24,000 displaced near Disa and Birmaza, around 5,000 had fled their homes in other parts of Darfur to stay with relatives in those villages.
Alex said some people had taken refuge in other villages after the clashes, putting pressure on the resources of the host communities, but said others were living in the open air.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Heavens, writing by Alaa Shahine; editing by Sami Aboudi)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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